Gujarat Elections 2017: In Vijay Rupani's Rajkot, BJP hopes 'Gujarati Asmita' will make voters forget water woes

Over a month ago, close to 150 women did a rasta roko, merely 30 kilometers from Rajkot, the capital of Gujarat's Saurashtra region. The Punit Nagar area in the town of Gondal, where the agitation had transpired, had not received water for about 20 days, including over the festive Diwali period.

"We eventually lost patience," Kanchan Ramani, a participant, said. "We needed to clean up the house during Diwali, prepare delicacies, and have our traditional early morning bath. How are we supposed to do that? A pipeline was damaged during road construction, but how long can one tolerate?"

After the agitation, water supply was restored. That is once every four days for half an hour. "In summers, it's once every eight days," said Hansa Vora, another participant at the agitation. "This in a year when the monsoon was satisfactory and the dams are full. When the rain gods desert Saurashtra, as they often do, the situation is unimaginable."

In rural Gondal, farmers shared a similar story regarding irrigation water. Shambhu Lonagariya and his wife Jaya in PatKhilori village say their dependence on rainwater has resulted in an unpredictable cotton produce on their 20-acre farm. "Cotton is an eight-month crop. It requires water consistently. My entire crop died in 2016 because of the drought. The uncertainty of something you cannot control is stressful," Shambhu said.

Shambhu Lonagariya, a farmer from rural Gondal. Firstpost/Parth MN

Shambhu Lonagariya, a farmer from rural Gondal. Firstpost/Parth MN

There are a few small dams around Gondal, providing drinking water to the town. But most of them are decades old, built for the population of the time. When the dams dry up in summers, the Narmada pipeline is channelled. Gondal does not benefit from the Bhadar dam nearby, because that's linked to provide water to Rajkot city, where the then chief minister Narendra Modi had launched a grand scheme in 2012 to permanently end Saurashtra's dire water deficit.

Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation (SAUNI) Yojana aims to fill 115 dams in Saurashtra through a network of pipelines that would channelise floodwater from the Sardar Sarovar Dam. The project is a work in progress and the deadline is reportedly end of 2019. The network of pipelines includes four links, one of which originates from Dholi Dhaja Dam in Surendranagar and ends at Venu I dam in Upleta taluka of Rajkot district, pumping water in 28 dams along its length of 245 kilometres.

While the benefits of SAUNI have reached Rajkot city, where the water has been pumped into Aji dam, it would take a year or two for the pipeline to reach Gondal. Residents said that the water from Bhadar dam should now be diverted to Gondal, with Aji dam fulfilling the needs of Rajkot city, which now gets water 20 minutes every day. Until three or four years ago, it was three times a week, for 20 minutes each.

The Congress party has been cashing in on this. In one of the chowks, BJP installed a poster with Modi on it, saying Narmada water has been brought to Aji dam. Congress installed a poster right alongside it, pointing out that the state has had three chief ministers in 22 years, but Rajkot still doesn't get water for over 20 minutes a day.

Congress and BJP put up posters taunting each other in Rajkot. Firstpost/Parth MN

Congress and BJP put up posters taunting each other in Rajkot. Firstpost/Parth MN

Senior journalist Sunil Joshi said people in well-off areas buy tankers when their handpumps dry out. "The poor areas are the worst sufferers," he says.

In Raiya Dhar area of Rajkot, residents have to wait for a water tanker to arrive from the corporation. "I have been living here for the past 21 years. The corporation tankers started 10 years ago. Before that, we would go on our bicycles to fetch water," said daily-wage labourer Ajit Mokashi.

In Raiya Dhar, a tanker brings water twice a week, which is hardly enough, forcing the residents to spend from their own pocket on water tankers. When tankers arrive, fights often break out between women who queue up to fill water. "I get Rs 300 a day. Even if I work 20-25 days a month, my monthly earning fluctuates between Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,500. On water alone, I spend Rs 1,200, double of that in summers. How do I educate my kids?" Mokashi asked.

All these different constituencies, unable to solve their water woes in 22 years, are expressing their anger against the ruling BJP, and most are expected to take it to the voting booth.

A lot is at stake here. There are thousands of traders, and a substantial Patidar population in Rajkot. It's Chief Minister Vijay Rupani's constituency and he is skating on thin ice. He did a lukewarm roadshow on 2 December, which did not seem like the one by a sitting chief minister. An auto driver said Rupani is highly unimpressive. "Anandiben was better," he said. "Rupani does not inspire us to vote for him. He is Amit Shah's puppet."

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani's rallies have been thinly attended. Firstpost/Parth MN

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani's rallies have been thinly attended. Firstpost/Parth MN

A few days ago, Hardik Patel's huge rally in Rajkot sent a message, especially since Rupani's Patidar meet a day before did not attract more than a thousand people.

The BJP responded with a resounding Modi rally on 3 December, but it's betraying its nervousness as well. Rupani's opponent Indranil Rajguru's brother got into a scuffle with BJP cadres, after which Indranil, along with the party cadres, protested at the chief minister's residence where the Gujarat Police detained him. When Maharashtra MP and AICC secretary Rajeev Satav went to meet him on the night of 2 December, the police did not let him in. Satav refused to go without meeting his candidate. At which point, the police took Satav and his colleagues in, beat them up, before releasing them at 5 am. Satav said this goes against the policy of free and fair elections.

Nonetheless, the biggest thing that stands as Congress' impediment is the Gujarati asmita. Considering the provincial pride, a sizable chunk could fall for the emotional card in spite of the disquiet against the establishment. Rahul Gandhi and Congress are still seen as outsiders, while Modi is the son of the soil.

Chirag Parmar, 30, said he does not like most of the BJP leaders, but would not want to see Modi being humiliated on his home turf. "Kaam toh Modiji theek thaak kiye hai," he said. "Lekin woh humare hai. Vote toh BJP ko denge."

Read complete coverage of Gujarat Elections 2017 here

Updated Date: Dec 04, 2017 09:22 AM

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